Long Neck sits on his rock, as he always has, and gazes out over the trees of Efteling theme park with his 4.8 metre long neck. According to the Brothers Grimm, this servant from ‘The Six Servants’ fairytale could stretch his long neck so far that he could see everything that was happening in the world. He has sat here since the day this famous theme park in Brabant opened, almost 70 years ago. During that time he has made a name for himself as one of the main characters of Efteling theme park and witnessed all kinds of special events and visitors. But he is still enchanted and delighted by everything he sees around him. So what is the secret of that special Efteling feeling?
The answer to that question lies partly hidden between the winding paths of the Fairytale Forest, which has been the beating heart of Efteling theme park since it opened in 1952. Originally, the Fairytale Forest was based on ten fairytales that quickly conquered the hearts of the families and their young children that came to the theme park from all four corners of Brabant. The forest now presents 30 fairytales and is still in the top 3 of the most popular attractions at the theme park.
The fairytales and the storytelling attractions that were added later are the predominant elements in visitors’ collective memories. Long Neck, Little Red Riding Hood, the Wolf and the Seven Goats and all the other well-known inhabitants of the Fairytale Forest are immortalised in photos that have been lovingly placed in scrapbooks and kept for generations. The Piraña wild water ride or Villa Volta provide the storylines for anecdotes that families carry on telling each other year after year.
Fairytales and other stories are part of Efteling theme park's DNA. So, ever since the early years, waste disposal has been in the hands of snoring paper gobblers and a few other good-natured gluttons. To be precise, Holle Bolle Gijs and the members of his family, who can usually be found close to one of the theme park's catering facilities. They are all insatiable and constantly ask park visitors to put any trash lying about into their round mouths.
This gluttonous family strikes a chord with each new generation and they are regularly reinvented to match the times. This approach keeps Holle Bolle Gijs contemporary. He is the personification of the sustainability improvements implemented by the theme park since the foundation of the Efteling Nature Park Foundation.
Efteling theme park branched off in a different direction in the early eighties when the Python was built. This steel roller coaster, sited at the edge of the park, which turns visitors upside down no less than four times, was intended to attract teenagers.
Other exciting attractions such as the Halve Maen swinging ship and the Piraña wild water ride followed in later years. Thanks to these attractions, the theme park was no longer just the home of Sleeping Beauty and the adorable elves on the water lilies, but also a place where visitors could enjoy an adrenaline rush accompanied by lots of screaming and splashing.
These ‘thrill rides’ are still popular with teenagers and adult visitors. Even so, this strategy was abandoned a few years later. As a theme park, Efteling decided to opt out of the competition to offer the biggest, highest or fastest attraction. It focused instead on providing unique experiences that can only be enjoyed in this park in Brabant. And on storytelling, because that is what distinguishes Efteling from other parks in Europe.
Efteling returned to the proven fairytale-based recipe for success in 1986 when it opened the Fata Morgana ‘dark ride’ attraction. Visitors sail in boats through and past scenes based on the One Thousand and One Nights collection of stories from the East. From that time on, all the new attractions would reflect the same storytelling theme.
This also includes the role as a custodian of the fairytale. The park takes this role very seriously and makes a point of focusing attention on less well-known sagas or legends. For example, Villa Volta is based on the legend of the Buckriders: a gang of robbers who left a gruesome trail of destruction through the Kempen region of Brabant and the countryside of Limburg at the end of the nineteenth century.
The Baron 1898 dive coaster was an important milestone for the park. This attraction focuses on the history of mining in the Netherlands and tales of the ‘Witte Wieven’, vengeful apparitions of the night in flowing white garments that have similar names in other countries. The riches hidden in the rock and soil of Baron Hooghmoed's gold mine are protected by these white apparitions. During the ride, they do their best to sabotage the gold mining activities, pushing visitors off the edge to plunge 37.5 metres down into the mine shaft. Story and experience interwoven as one.
The stories have earned Efteling a place among Europe's top theme parks. In addition to pulling crowds, Efteling theme park is also part of our national cultural heritage in the Netherlands. Just like the traditional ‘Sinterklaas’ celebration, the Rijksmuseum and Johan Cruyff, Efteling is one of those ‘typically Dutch icons’.
To maintain this position, the park's designers work continuously to add heritage that will stand the test of time. Amazing and delighting people; that's a job that requires serious commitment. Enormous effort goes into preparing surprises for visitors everywhere they go.
The designers continue to base their work on the creative ideas that artist Anton Pieck laid down in the park's early years: build things as though they have been there for a century, think in crooked lines, devote enormous attention to the details.
Everything is part of this fantastical world of stories, where experience and enchantment meet as key themes. This also applies to all the facilities in the park, like its cafés and restaurants.
There too, the storytelling is in the details. In Polles Keuken, a restaurant which is actually the kitchen of Palace Symbolica, guests can order pancakes while their children amuse themselves hunting for a secret tap. If they find and open the tap, magic water that changes colour comes out.
The newest inhabitants of Efteling theme park are Max and Moritz, two cheeky rascals from a well-known German story written in 1865. In their Efteling home, they live in a village with their mother Frau Schmetterling, who makes special cuckoo clocks.
The two mischief-makers pull pranks all the time and drive the villagers to despair. When Frau Schmetterling confines Max and Moritz to her workshop as a punishment, they try to escape using soapboxes they have built themselves. Visitors can watch their antics at first hand from the family roller coaster as they try to escape.
Max and Moritz have also left their mark in the area around their roller coaster. Waiting visitors encounter the whoopee cushion pillow organ, which looks like it has been roughly hammered together by Max and Moritz themselves. Instead of a keyboard or pedals, the organ pipes are operated via a row of whoopee cushions on a bench.
Up on the roof of Frau Boltes Küche, a snack restaurant near the roller coaster, Max and Moritz try to steal roasted chickens through the chimney. Inside the restaurant, visitors can order the ‘Bengel Bucket’, a cardboard tub filled with fried chicken pieces or fried onion rings. This completes the storytelling experience.
Efteling theme park is the life's work of real-life ‘giants’, such as the founders Anton Pieck, Peter Reijnders and Mayor Van der Heijden. All their successors have remained true to Pieck's creative ideas and followed the line set out by these founding fathers to make the theme park even more beautiful and enchanting.
In 2030, Efteling theme park’s ambition is to be the only European theme park capable of offering guests of all ages ‘the best experience’ ever in a fairytale world created in a beautiful nature setting. The website expresses this key message as follows: “As long as we stay true to everything Efteling theme park stands for: sincerity, authenticity, a passion for detail and a love of the natural environment, new ‘dwarfs’ are welcome to stand on our shoulders.”
Since its opening, this famous park in Brabant has entertained more than 100 million visitors with its stories. The ‘Efteling feeling’ has not changed in all those years: a welcome escape from day-to-day reality in a world of wonder and amazement. When the winter comes, Long Neck will wear his ear muffs again and Holle Bolle Gijs will don an extra-warm scarf and a big hat. Ready for the next wondrous and amazing story.
You can copy the full text of this story for free at the touch of a button